It's a reference to horseshoes, where you get one point for a "leaner," touching the post but not around it, hence the saying, "Close only counts in horseshoes."
I just got word that I've finaled in another contest. It's always a thrill to be chosen from the herd, but I've learned to practice cautious optimism. Many factors affect the eventual choice, and the dismal fact is that there will only be one winner. Everyone else only came close.
There are ways to maximize the value of contests as a writer. Some provide feedback, and that's always good. Although I got some really bad feedback from one contest judge, feedback is generally good because it lets you see the work as an outsider sees it, no matter how nit-picky their observations.
Secondly, contests get your name in front of the public. After I finaled in Courtv's 2007 contest, The Search for the Next Great Crime Writer, I got much braver about calling myself a writer. Validation from a panel of people who don't know you from Eve is encouraging, and when two of them are named Kellerman, that's heady stuff.
Finally, contests call attention to your work. I have a friend who entered a contest, finaled but didn't win, but still got a three-book contract out of it. Getting someone in the business to read your work, even creating the idea in that person's head that this work is a cut above the ordinary, is good for your prospects.
So I've made the first cut in Amazon's Breakout Novel Contest. Amazon is seeking reviews of the sample chapters on-line. ( http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001265804 . I think there's more info at the base site, www.amazon.com/abna. ) If you can see your way clear to making some comments, you may win some cool prizes, and it will put me one teensy step closer. And won't you feel good about that?